Ballet Virginia Company member, Hayley Ann Vasco, sat down with Ballet Virginia’s resident choreographer, Lydia Roberts Coco to ask her some questions about the company’s next show, Visions of Hope. They chatted about what the audience can expect, her choreographic process, and advice she would give to a budding choreographer.
Ms. Lydia’s background includes being a company member with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, where she toured nationally and internationally, working with different choreographers and performing a variety of principal roles in many works. We are so grateful to have someone so experienced and creative teaching our students and choreographing for our professional company.
Here’s what Ms. Lydia had to say:
- Can you tell me a little about this upcoming show?
Visions of Hope is a production that will feature both classical and contemporary works performed by the company’s professional dancers and our junior company BV2. The performances will focus on the journey of moving forward with compassion and gratitude while acknowledging the strife and conflicts of life.
- How did you pick which pieces to include?
I picked 6 different works to include in this production. Each one has a different style, energy, and purpose. I wanted to show the company’s diverse styles while also presenting dance through a humanistic approach that is relatable for the audience.
- Out of all the pieces you are setting which was your favorite to put together? Why?
I would have to say putting the Gospel piece entitled “A Seed of Faith” together is the closest to my heart. It speaks of the struggles we face in life and how holding on to faith can bring joy and triumphs. The men’s section called “We Need You Right Now” is about brotherhood and lifting each other up in times of need. This brotherhood I’m speaking of is all about loving and supporting one another regardless of skin color and differences. We need more of that during these trying times.
Sometimes dance can be a vessel to reach people in ways that words may not be able to. Dance is beautiful but even more beautiful when the relationship between dancer and audience is impactful. This piece was also fun to set because it takes me back to being in the Ailey company and dancing Revelations. Choreographed by Alvin Ailey, Revelations is a ballet that has been uplifting audiences across the world for 60 years now. Dancing Alvin’s works was a huge blessing and inspiration for me. So, to be able to sprinkle a bit of my experiences from the Ailey company through my work is a continuation of Alvin Ailey’s vision as well.
- How different is your process when you’re setting a work you’ve done before vs when you are starting from scratch?
It’s quite different because creating a new work for me is like starting to work on a brand-new huge puzzle. It takes patience, persistence, trial and errors until you finally get it finished. It’s a very satisfying and exciting feeling when I complete a piece. Some come easy to me and some are not so easy. The harder ones sometimes make me lose sleep!
Recreating a piece I’ve already done is quite interesting because sometimes I tweak and change it a bit. Sometimes I may change it because I hope to keep growing as a choreographer and improve with each subsequent performance. It also may change depending on the different dancers I work with each time. As a choreographer, you have to be willing to adapt with the dancer you have in front of you. So after a bit of tweaking, the piece may look the same but have a slightly different flavor. Same meat…different spices. Or same soup if you’re a vegetarian and meat sounds icky!
- When you are starting a new piece, do you find the music first + then create a story, or do you find the music to fit your idea?
It varies depending on a few things. There are times when I know I want to choreograph a piece with a specific meaning or intent and then it’s a long hard search for music that would be a good fit for that vision. Other times, I find a piece of music that I am drawn to and I immediately visualize the choreography or certain story I would like to portray to that music. Then there are certain pieces I choreograph that may not have a storyline at all and are just about movement… but even then, it still has to all come together with a fluid connection of steps to each other and the movement has to relate to the music. And of course, the dancers have to gel with the movement or it just doesn’t work.
- You have a unique style of movement! What shaped you or drew you to that style?
I’m flattered that you think I have a unique style of movement. It’s honestly a bit of a culmination of so many amazing choreographers I have been honored to work with, in addition to my own way of moving, all tied up in one. I like to keep my eyes open for some of the ways that dance is evolving so that I can continue to evolve as a choreographer, BUT while also staying true to my own style. I love modern and classical ballet, so I love to show both sides of that in a lot of my choreography. I also like to dabble in a bit of Afro-Caribbean movement in some of my works.
- What is your favorite part of the choreographic or rehearsal process?
My favorite part of the choreographic process is when I see that the dancers are “starting to get it.” Sometimes at the beginning of the rehearsal period, I see blank faces looking back at me because they are concerned about their ability to move the way I’m asking them to. I have said on many occasions… “trust me and trust the process…I’m not going to send you out on stage looking crazy!”
It is so exciting when I see the dancers letting go of their inhibitions and getting comfortable with a different way of moving. When I see the end result on stage and the way everything comes together… AHHHH, it’s an amazing thing. It really fuels my soul!
- What advice would you give any students interested in choreography?
The advice I would give to students interested in choreography would be to not be afraid to think outside of the box – but not so much out of the box that the dance becomes something that the audience leaves the theater with a feeling of “what the heck did I just watch?’ I feel that dance should touch the audience in many different ways. When audience members leave feeling confused and empty, then perhaps you have tried to be too different in your approach to choreography. Alvin Ailey always said “dance was created by the people and should be given back to the people”…in other words, give them something they can feel and grasp. As a choreographer it’s ok to push the envelope in our works and make people feel things in a way that they haven’t felt before, but the key is to make them feel something! Even if it’s disdain – Just don’t let them leave feeling empty and lost.
- Lastly, what’s the one thing in Visions of Hope that you are most excited for the audience to see or experience?
I want people to leave the theater feeling like they just experienced a wonderful interaction and relationship with the dancers. Dancers should be able to reach people through their movement, their energy, their expression, their commitment to the work and through their heartfelt love of dance. With the works that I have chosen for Visions of Hope, along with the dancers being vulnerable and committed to the works, I am hoping that the audience leaves feeling uplifted and joyous. I’m also hopeful it creates more compassion, humanity and togetherness. If I can touch one person this way then maybe I’ve done a good job.
You won’t want to miss this exciting production – There will be both live and virtual viewing options. Hope to see you there!
LIVE PERFORMANCES: Friday, May 14th at 7:30 PM & May 15th at 2 PM and 7:30 PM at Zeiders American Dream Theater in Virginia Beach
VIRTUAL PERFORMANCES: Viewing available from May 21st to June 7th
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